Interview: NYC Mash-Up Artist Max Tannone

Mashup

(as taken from Urban Dictionary):
v. To take elements of two or more pre-existing pieces of music and combine them to make a new song. n. A song comprised of elements of two or more pre-existing pieces of music.
2. I’m in the middle of mashing-up songs by Tom Jones and Michael Jackson. (verb usage)

1. I’ll play my mash-up of Tom Jones and Michael Jackson at the club tomorrow night. (noun usage)

Max Tannone might not a name you now until you find out that he is the man behind the mash-up that is called Jaydiohead amongst other music blending projects.  Years ago my pal Kevin shared with me a track called “Wrong Prayer”, a mash-up of Jay-Z and Radiohead.  This was around the time that Dangermouse‘s The Grey Album was getting some attention and being a fan of both Jay-Z and even more so Radiohead I was just impressed with what I heard.  Years later that track was released on Jaydiohead, a free downloadable mash-up album made available by Max Tannone.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with the music manipulator.  He was more than kind to answer a few questions for me about mashing music.  Enjoy!

BHP: Your name might be unknown to some but it’s safe to say what you have done is talked about by many. Can you quickly introduce yourself?

MT: Sure, well my name is Max Tannone. I’m from New York City and I make music and remixes. I guess this is called a producer, although my definition of a producer is someone who works with other musicians in a studio setting developing a project…perhaps that makes me more of a beat-maker or a remix artist than a traditional producer.

I use the term “mash up” myself a lot in regards to what you do but I know most people prefer to call this form sound manipulation something else. What do you prefer it to be called?

It doesn’t matter to me. People shun the term “mash up” because of the negative connotations it carries. The term has transformed into a signification of a musical gimmick, mainly due to the availability of inexpensive computer software allowing people to experiment with music. I embrace this though. I love the fact that anyone can create a mashup, a remix, an original track, whatever – with little equipment or prior knowledge. I don’t necessarily enjoy everything that’s created, but the fact that it can be done is vital. So, that being said, you can it a mashup, a remix, whatever is easy for you.

To someone who is not familiar with mashing, how would you explain it to them?

In general sound editing is manipulating or combining different sounds together. I only have experience doing this in the digital realm, and have never physically cut and spliced tape like the originators of remix culture – but the principles remain. Its easier to picture visually. Imagine creating a collage, with the different pictures that contribute to the overall image representing different pieces or loops of sound. Pictures can be layered, altered, etc. Imagine having an image of the Mona Lisa and applying 40 consecutive Photoshop filters to it. You probably wouldn’t even recognize it at the end. This is an extreme example, but you get the idea.

How did you get into “mashing” music? Was it something you recently started or have you been toying with it for a while now?

I learned how to mix instrumentals and acapellas (which is just matching their tempos and starting them on the “1”…very easy) several years ago. From here I got heavily into making my own beats, learning how to sample and adding my own elements. At the time the producer group The Neptunes had been producing every R&B and hip-hop song and I was fascinated. It was the first time I began to think about how the music was actually created, rather than just listening to it. After a few years of just doing beats, I got back into the mash-up thing, but wanted to add my own elements as well. The first track I did was “Wrong Prayer” from Jaydiohead and made it into a full out project, just to see what would happen.

Who did you first “mash” and why?

Way back in the day I would just experiment. I had hundreds of acapellas and instrumentals and would just mix random ones together. I remember being really excited the first time I got something on tempo that sounded good. Soon after you realize that this is what DJs do, live, every night. I wanted to go beyond a basic track A vs. track B type thing. The first mash-ups aren’t anything special… Mash-Up 1 , Mash-Up 2 , if you want to hear them. They are perfect examples of something a decent DJ would do live all night. So I tried to expand from this.

How do you go about finding the right songs to mix up? I can not imagine that is an easy task.

For me it starts with a concept. Than I gather as many songs as I can from each artist or genre, and just start listening. I make notes on what I think would sound good together, and just test it out. When I find something I like, I try to make it a complete song. How I choose depends on the vibe of the tracks, their respective sounds, tempos, instrumentation, etc.

How long does it generally take to disassemble songs and recreate them to your liking?

Anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to do one track.

Have you experienced any legal issues yet?

I got a cease and desist letter from Minty Fresh Records. They said I had to stop using the name “Minty Fresh Beats”, so now I just go by my regular name. Maybe that’s a good thing because I got a lot flack for that name, haha.

Obviously you can not make a profit from this so you allow your work to be downloaded for free on various websites via P2P sharing. Which album has been downloaded the most?

Probably the original Jaydiohead album – but I don’t know for sure. Everything has been re-uploaded by countless people on many different sharing sites. Not to mention single tracks that have been downloaded via blogs and my soundcloud page. Its impossible to know. The Jaydiohead website has over a million hits but you really cant correlate that to downloads. It could be more or less.

Jaydiohead is genius to my ears. I adore the project and can not help but to think about the ever popular DJ/Produce Dangermouse and his project called The Grey Album. Did he provide any influence to you by doing what he did years ago or did you pave your own path?

Thanks I’m glad you like it. The Grey Album is great, and was just a stepping stone for Dangermouse. The work he’s done since then is amazing – definitely one of my favorite producers. That being said, I never really thought about the Grey Album when I was making Jaydiohead. Not to take anything away from it, I was just concentrated on making something sound cohesive and interesting – just like any piece of music.

So how did you come up with the idea of mixing Radiohead with Jay-Z? Seems so far fetched yet so perfect one you hear it.

I heard “I Might Be Wrong” by Radiohead and thought it would be a nice hip-hop beat. I made a few minor adjustments and it was ready to go. I am very familiar with Jay-Z’s catalog, so he was a natural choice for me. I wasn’t put off by the number of Jay-Z remix albums that already exist. That was one of the reasons I did it, maybe I could do something that would stand out.

Mos-Dub is your most recent work and I think it is brilliant to do what you have done by combining Mos-Def with reggae music many may have never heard of before. How did you come up with this idea?

[I] recently became heavily into dub reggae music and again, thought I could sample it. Like Jay-Z, Mos is one of my favorite MCs and the idea of working with him (obviously not in person) was exciting. Dub can be very political and socially conscious, and Mos Def’s lyrics often represent this too, so they came together nicely. There are a few other MCs that I’d like to do projects with…

Have you heard from Mos Def yet in regards to this? What about Jay Z or any other major artists?

Haven’t heard from Mos Def. Jay-Z wrote about Jaydiohead on his Twitter account which was pretty cool. The Beastie Boys were supportive of Doublecheck Your Head, and posted 4 of that project’s 7 tracks on their website. One thing I want to say about the Beastie Boys is that they have been supporters of remix culture from very early on. They uploaded a bunch of their acapellas on their website a long time ago, before the mash-up and remix culture got to the fevered pitch its at now…so props to them.

That is awesome to hear that about the Beastie Boys! They are indeed one of the biggest supporters of remix culture. How did you feel when you found out their posted your remixes on their website?

I felt honored. Doublecheck Your Head wouldn’t have happened without Adam H (Adrock.) He liked Jaydiohead and contacted me about doing a similar remix with their Check Your Head album. I jumped at the chance.

Seems as if you prefer to tackle on NYC MC’s. Is this something intentional?

I’m most familiar with their work, and they are some of my favorite artists. I grew up listening to them, so these projects are tributes in a way.

Do you make it to a lot of shows in NYC or are you mainly a club kind of guy?

I’m still developing my DJ sets and “live show” per se. But as far as a concert-goer, I see stuff pretty often. The best DJ set I’ve seen in recent memory was Rusko at Webster Hall.

What is your favorite mash up that you created?

I really like “December Backdrifts” from Jaydiohead: The Encore.

How about one that someone else created? Do you have any favorite mash up artists?

DJ Swindle has done some cool stuff. He did an album with Nas and Al Green that I enjoyed. I’m into kind of conceptual projects, or at least ones where every song isn’t 20 songs blended together. I appreciate that from a technical point of view, but its often musically uninteresting for me.

You started a DJ and moved to more of a producer, right? Have you produced many bands/artists you would like to mention?

Yes, although I want to get more involved with DJing. I would like to do some of this live. To be honest, my production experience outside of these projects is really limited. I haven’t been able to work with an artist or group from start to finish on an original project. I hope that’s on the horizon.

You are quite personable, more so than most artists out there. How important is it to you to be friendly to your fans on Twitter and Facebook?

It’s weird to think of people as fans. I don’t like to. I see myself like anyone else, just experimenting with music and putting it out there. I’m honored that other people are into it. Interacting with people is a great way to share ideas and get feedback. If people ever have questions or want to get into doing this stuff I try to help them.

Have you ever considered going your own way and putting out original material?

Yeah. I have a bunch of original beats, sampled beats, and more electronic dancey stuff online at my soundcloud page. I’m most comfortable with hip-hop, and would like to work with an MC on an album from start to finish. I keep coming back to this idea of a concept album where each track is part of a story or something, I don’t know why I’m into it. It could be really corny, I don’t know.

What’s next for you? Any new mashes you can hint on?

I’m working on some stuff now, I don’t want to say anything because I’m not sure how it will turn out yet. Still experimenting…I just want to keep going.

Jaydiohead – Wrong Prayer from Max Tannone on Vimeo.

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